As a professor of youth ministry that supervises interns and consults with churches as they hire personnel, churches often ask my advice about the appropriate salary for youth ministry personnel: Youth Pastor, Youth Director, Associate/Assistant Youth Director, Youth Ministry Intern, etc.
Several factors are critical here:
- Whether you are hiring for a large church or a small one, a youth ministry professional that has both a sense of call to ministry and has professional training needs to be your aim if you want long term ministry success.
- Tenure of your youth minister will be highly influenced by the salary that you choose for this person. This doesn’t make them less called or less spiritual. A person that is living on the brink of financial disaster is not going to stay in the position long. A person that feels under-appreciated will not stay in the position long. Someone that has a responsibility to pay student loans, provide for a family, or just meet obligations is very likely to leave even a position that they love if their needs aren’t being met.
- This is an area of significant injustice in church ministry staffing. It does not reflect well on the church that it has become so common for churches to hire staff for 20 hrs/week and expect 40 hrs/week of work. Similarly, hiring lots of staff at 30 hrs/week so that you don’t have to provide health insurance is unjust at every level. If this is your church’s cost savings strategy, then it’s time to do better. For those staff that desire to work full-time with benefits, combine areas of responsibility (youth and childrens ministry, worship and men’s/women’s ministry, etc.) until you can provide for this basic need.
With those general guidelines established, here is some good general salary advice for youth ministry.
If you are a youth minister that isn’t being paid according to these guidelines, then I’d recommend reading “How to Get a Youth Ministry Raise.”
Full-time Youth Pastor/Director
It is generally considered good practice to pay a trained youth minister the rough equivalent to a public school teacher in your region. There are some very affluent areas where teacher salaries do not keep up with the cost of living for that area, but this is a good starting point. Teacher salary information is pretty easily available. This rule assumes equivalent level of education. Here in Indiana, a starting teacher with a B.A. degree earns $33,500 and the average teacher with a B.A. earns $50,800. Several churches that I know have hired first-time youth ministers in the low $30’s and that is appropriate. Generally speaking, a Master’s degree is worth about 10-15% more. Though this report is from 2012, Group’s salary survey says that full-time persons in their first job average $31,800 nationwide (Turn to page 38 in the magazine available at that link). Youth Ministers that have more than 10 years experience should be very near $50,000/yr, according to the survey. Anecdotal evidence tells me that a salary in the mid-$30’s with regular raises is usually what keeps a youth minister for a long tenure. Though I am not familiar with any research in this arena, my hunch is that a full-time associate youth director (someone that reports to another youth minister) will generally earn about 10% less, depending on education and experience.
(I would consider all of these numbers to assume that the youth minister is NOT filing taxes as clergy. If they are clergy for tax purposes, then the additional 8% social security tax should probably be added to salary.)
Benefits should be comparable to other comparable professionals. The one thing that I would suggest here is that no matter what other benefits are paid, a professional development budget of $600-$1,000 per year insures that your youth ministry can attend at least one major event for retreat and training. I would require the youth minister to report on their usage of this money each year in an annual report or yearly evaluation. This ensures that the congregation and the youth minister understand that this is important work and improvement is ongoing.
Part-time Youth Pastor/Director
The easiest salary to consider for part-time youth ministry is the person that is trained and might otherwise have a full-time position, but does not because of the church’s needs or resources. Imagine here that we are talking about a person with a B.A. in youth ministry or Christian education, that works between 15-30 hrs/week. This person should be paid the rough fraction of the full-time person’s salary. This means somewhere between $14-18/hour in Indiana. I do not recommend paying this person hourly (for a variety of reasons that I won’t explain) however. Create an honest number of hours per week expected and pay a salary equivalent to the above wage. Reassess the number of hours after about 3-6 months to ensure that the estimate is roughly accurate.
It’s a bit harder to approximate a salary for one of the most common types of part-time youth workers: the nonprofessional. There are a few types of people that I would put in this category. Sometimes a parent begins volunteering so much in the youth ministry that the church hires them 15 hrs/week. Or maybe you hire a young 20-something with no ministry experience and an unrelated degree. They love Jesus and your youth, but have no desire to make youth ministry a career. I’m sure that there are many similar scenarios, but the common factor is that these persons are probably not thinking very critically about the design and long-time prospects for youth ministry. They don’t read youth ministry books and blogs. They have never considered a “philosophy of youth ministry” or models of organizing youth ministry. I would consider paying this person a wage that is roughly equivalent to that of an administrative assistant. In Indiana, that likely means that you would pay a youth minister in this category about $12-14/hour. This assumes that you are giving this person primary leadership for the ministry. If not, then they should be in the next category.
The greatest variance in pay practices is certainly for someone that might just be called a youth ministry intern. In this category I would put any person that is helping in youth ministry work, but has little decision-making power. If your intern is writing a calendar, submitting a budget, and is the primary leader for meetings, then they are in the category above (nonprofessional). But if they follow the direction of the pastor or another youth minister (or sometimes even a volunteer “youth ministry chairperson” or something similar), then you can pay this person minimum wage. Presumably this employee is in this position because they are gaining experience. That experience is worth something to the intern. I would suggest that in addition to this salary, an intern should get some valuable mentoring from leader of the ministry (pastor, youth pastor, etc.). If there is no mentoring then it isn’t an internship and they should be paid more.
What if we don’t have that kind of budget?
Even if you wish you could pay an appropriate salary, you may not be able to do so. Don’t let this be an easy out though. Most churches don’t have a shortage of money, they have a shortage of giving. People have money, but they haven’t been given a ministry vision that inspires their giving. Do what you need to do to hire a youth minister at these salaries, or decide to do youth ministry using volunteers or existing staff. If that is your reality, there is a great deal to be learned from Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark Devries. His model of youth ministry is good for churches of all sizes, but I think it’s the only way to do it well for small churches.
For all persons working to establish salary for a youth worker, I recommend reading Group’s annual salary survey. The 2012 survey is available online at page 38 of the magazine at this link.
If you have the same or a different experience than this, please leave comments so that persons using the guide will have your take on it as well.
For those discerning whether God might be calling you to church ministry, check out my Explore Calling series.
For those interested in the role and trials of female pastors, check out my Women in Ministry series.
There are a number of salary survey’s that are more specific to different regions and denominations. These may be more helpful for you if they closely align with your context.
National Catholic Youth Worker Survey from early 2014
National Full-Time Average: $34,900
Master’s in Religion: $40,000
Assembled by Trinity Lutheran College, this compensation guide focuses on Lutherans from the state of Washington. They also cite a number of other older salary surveys that are worth a look. Though there are lots of different figures included, here is a sample:
BA, no experience: recommend $36,000
Masters, 5 years exp.: recommend $49,200
This is a national survey of full-time United Methodist youth workers. It includes medians that are always a bit under averages (which is an indicator that there are a few very highly paid youth workers that skew averages).
Average with BA: $39,100
Average with a seminary degree: $48,200
Abilene Christian University conducts an annual survey of all types of ministers, including youth, children’s, etc. This is a survey of Church of Christ congregations and does not give averages by education and experience.
Average Youth Minister Compensation: $39,800
Average Housing and Utilities Allowances: $10,200
Salary guidelines for the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati from 2010-11
Range for Youth Director with a related Masters: $35,500-$50,800
Range for Full-time Youth Coordinator with related BA: $32,900-$47,000
Range for a Youth Ministry Associate (no related education): $12.57/hour – $17.95/hour
Children’s Ministry Magazine conducts a similar survey as Group does for youth ministry. You can see for yourself as to it’s applicability. This link is to 2013 data.
Though this data is exclusive to Southern Baptists, you will find no more customizable detail by state, position, etc. than this 2012 survey.
This survey is protected by password, but I assume that some ELCA persons looking for information may already be a member of this site.
The following may or may not be the same ELCA survey as above. There is some good information in this one from 2012, though the sample size is pretty small.